by Max Brantley
New York magazine covers the disparate press treatment of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. After speculating on various explanations for this, the writer forms his own:
All these theories contain at least some truth, but it’s the last one that edges closest to what I think has actually gone on. Campaigns are, at bottom, a competition between memes: infectious ideas that gather force through sheer repetition. The most powerful of these memes are what Just refers to as meta-narratives, the backdrops against which everything plays out in the media. “Clinton’s meta-narrative,” she says, “is that she’ll do anything to win; she can’t be trusted, she’s ethically challenged; she’s manipulative, calculating, and programmed.” Obama’s meta-narrative is decidedly otherwise. “It’s the same, in a way, as John McCain’s,” says Just. “He’s authentic, honest, free of taint. Then you add in new, charismatic, and an agent of change.”
For any candidate and his or her team, the formation and management of the meta-narrative are paramount strategic challenges. And these challenges were especially daunting for Clinton because she started out with much of hers already baked in.
By arguing that one of Clinton’s key virtues was her ability to go toe-to-toe with the GOP attack machine, her campaign exacerbated instead of ameliorated her reputation for ruthlessness.
The implications of Obama’s and Clinton’s respective meta-narratives for their press coverage have been profound. For Clinton, the inability to change the story line meant that any vaguely negative maneuver was interpreted in the darkest possible light, for it reinforced a preexisting supposition. For Obama, however, any criticism could be fended off as a manifestation of grubby old politics.
The article concludes that Obama may not find the going so easy against an opponent, John McCain, with his own golden press narrative.
UPDATE: Check the jump for a coming speaker at the Clinton School who's written a book about mistreatment of female presidential candidates.
CLINTON SCHOOL RELEASE
Communication scholar Erica Falk will discuss her new book, “Women for President: Media Bias in Eight Campaigns,” a timely analysis of gender bias in press coverage of presidential campaigns. Tracing the campaigns of eight women who ran for president through 2004 – Victoria Woodhull, Belva Lockwood, Margaret Chase Smith, Shirley Chisholm, Patricia Schroeder, Lenora Fulani, Elizabeth Dole, and Carol Moseley Braun – Falk finds little progress in the fair treatment of women candidates. Falk is the associate program chair for the Master’s degree in Communication at Johns Hopkins University. Previously, she served as a research director for the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
When: Thursday, February 21, 2008
6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.